Express Yourself

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(Pictured: B. J. Thomas, 1970.)

A couple of years ago I wrote about the American Top 40 show from September 5, 1970, and described Casey Kasem’s performance as “ragged and weird.” So I listened to the show from the next week to see if that continued, or if things got better.

40. “Lola”/Kinks. In its earliest days, AT40 was recorded in real time, essentially a live radio show on tape. Fixing a mistake meant re-recording a whole segment. So if Casey launched an odd ad lib over an intro, like “Lola rhymes with cola,” and did so while being half drowned-out by the music, they were inclined to leave it in.

39. “Express Yourself”/Charles Wright
35. “Out in the Country”/Three Dog Night
33. “Closer to Home”/Grand Funk Railroad
31. “Long Long Time”/Linda Ronstadt
30. “Joanne”/Michael Nesmith
Casey introduces “Closer to Home” with a story about GFR’s block-long, hundred-thousand dollar billboard in New York City, says something nearly inaudible about Linda Ronstadt and Tucson over the intro of her song, and calls Michael Nesmith “a nice guy.” Although there are other candidates later on, any one of these could be the best song on the show.

37. “I Want to Take You Higher”/Ike and Tina Turner
36. “Tell It All Brother”/Kenny Rogers and the First Edition
34. “Peace Will Come”/Melanie
32. “Sex Machine”/James Brown
Elsewhere in the first hour, the contrasts between hard R&B and lame hippie twaddle can give a guy whiplash.

29. “Neanderthal Man”/Hotlegs. This website recently suggested that Godley and Creme’s 1985 hit “Cry” should be shot into the sun. It would like to suggest the same destination for Godley and Creme’s 1970 hit “Neanderthal Man.”

26. “All Right Now”/Free
25. “It’s a Shame”/Spinners
24. “I Just Can’t Help Believing”/B. J. Thomas
23. “Why Can’t I Touch You”/Ronnie Dyson
22. “Cracklin’ Rosie”/Neil Diamond
21. “Solitary Man”/Neil Diamond
20. “Groovy Situation”/Gene Chandler

This is a solid 20 minutes. “All Right Now” would become one of the most-played songs in the history of radio, although there was little reason to think so in September 1970. “It’s a Shame” is produced by Stevie Wonder, who also plays all the instruments. “Why Can’t I Touch You” and “Groovy Situation” have been favorites of this website since always. “I Just Can’t Help Believing” is always welcome, and the two Neil Diamond songs are probably the six best minutes of the whole 20.

19. “Hi-De-Ho”/Blood Sweat and Tears
13. “Signed Sealed Delivered”/Stevie Wonder
In which Casey gets off a couple of nice bits of jock-craft, talking around the horn fanfare that opens “Hi-De-Ho” and getting out of the way of Stevie’s verbalizing in the intro of “Signed Sealed Delivered.”

18. “Rubber Duckie”/Ernie (Jim Henson)
17. “Hand Me Down World”/Guess Who
16. “I Know I’m Losing You”/Rare Earth
We all love the Muppets, but sweet mama “Rubber Duckie” is intolerable. Thank goodness the Guess Who and Rare Earth are here to hose out the bathtub afterward.

15. “I (Who Have Nothing)”/Tom Jones. On early AT40s, Casey sometimes made cringeworthy remarks about Jones’ effect on the ladies, although he didn’t do it here. My favorite, which would come on the September 26 show, is “Something happens to a woman over 35 when she hears the voice of Tom Jones.”

11. “Candida”/Dawn
10. “Spill the Wine”/Eric Burdon and War
9. “Make It With You”/Bread
8. “Close to You”/Carpenters
7. “Julie Do Ya Love Me”/Bobby Sherman
Casey had started the third hour with an awkward tease about an artist who was discovered at a Hollywood party attended by Jane Fonda, Natalie Wood, Roddy McDowall, and Sal Mineo. Seven songs later, he got to the artist in question: Bobby Sherman.

From #11 on up to #1, this is where it all begins for me, songs I heard during my first few weeks as a listener, the ones that quite literally changed my life.

6. “Patches”/Clarence Carter
5. “Lookin’ Out My Back Door”/CCR
4. “25 or 6 to 4″/Chicago
3. “In the Summertime”/Mungo Jerry
2. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”/Diana Ross
1. “War”/Edwin Starr
Casey refers to “In the Summertime” as “reggae fron England.” His engineer lays the “Billboard‘s number one” jingle over the drum-roll intro of “War,” but the level is too low and it gets buried.

Working out the obvious technical bugs (and there were several others) would be critical to the show’s development. So would a greater emphasis on scripting and timing. At this point, 10 episodes in, the staff was relying mostly on Casey’s radio skills and his gift of gab to carry the show, but it wouldn’t be long before they figured out the advantages of more rigorous preparation. As I wrote two years ago, “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the show became The Show and the man became The Man only after that.”

4 thoughts on “Express Yourself

  1. Oh, man…fall, 1970. For me, the start of sophomore year in high school, six months away from being on the radio my damn self. So much here…

    “Out in the Country” is one of my favorites from Three Dog Night (I tend toward their lower-charting stuff just because of long-standing “Joy to the World and “Black and White” burnout. Written by Paul Williams at (arguably) his peak.

    I was today years old when I learned that Stevie Wonder played all the instruments on “It’s a Shame”. Dude was 20 years old, and (arguably) six years from HIS peak.

    How is it that “Julie, Do Ya Love Me” was not, is not, a staple of drunken Karaoke nights everywhere?

    And, generally, as a matter of principle, I’m not a big fan of 45 RPM hatchet-job edits. But damn, very little ever sounded as good coming out of a jingle as the opening notes of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”.

  2. Wesley

    Out in the Country gets my vote for best song in the 30s this week, but man, for the 20s, I’d have a hard time picking whether I’d want It’s a Shame, Why Can’t I Touch You or Groovy Situation, depending on my mood. For the teens, Signed Sealed Delivered wins easily, while for the top 10, I’ll just say it’s a pretty solid week for all the entries.

  3. spinetingler

    I don’t think I had quite discovered AM radio yet in my new hometown at this date. Around 10 these songs are unfamiliar to me, and many of the others I know that I learned long after their chart run. Maybe some of them just weren’t popular in my area.

  4. porky

    Huge “Out in the Country” fan, glad we all hear its charms. I actually heard “Try a Little Tenderness” on the radio this morning, not often played these days but not so great either. They were finding their way.

    I’d never heard “It’s a Shame” until the early 90’s on oldies radio and couldn’t figure out why I had never heard it. Incredible record.

    Sometime today carve out three minutes and thirteen seconds and concentrate on the bass guitar on “Groovy Situation.” Mind boggling.

    A day or so ago I had the random thought that it’s a shame (!) that Tom Jones’ Vegas/crazed female fans baggage damaged him, though thanks to YouTube people are beginning to appreciate his incredible, extremely adaptable voice.

    In the VHS era Rhino released a set of tapes of the “Shindig” show which I promptly lapped up and was surprised to see Bobby Sherman as a cast member. He actually cut a couple of decent records for Decca at that time helmed by Gary Usher that are pretty good, including a great cover of Holly’s “Well All Right.” In my record hunting travels I also came across a great 1965 Cameo/Parkway record by Bobby with the unwieldy title “Goody Galum-Shus (Fabulo Scrum-Shus)” that predates the Buddah/Kasenetz & Katz bubblegum sound by about two years. Bobby sounds just like Joey Levine with the same sly double entendre lyrics of the best bubblegum.

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